Cherokee Marshals Set Standard for Tribal Law Enforcement
As torrential spring storms have created historic flooding recently in our communities, our Cherokee Nation emergency responders have been out in full force, including the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service. The Cherokee Nation Marshals have been on the front lines, protecting, serving and often rescuing citizens and neighbors across the 14-county jurisdiction. Nature is unpredictable but our marshals are nonetheless prepared, bringing experience and extensive training that includes swift water boat rescue and a nationally accredited diving team.
I cannot think of a harder-working team in northeast Oklahoma, working overtime during this and many other stressful situations. When the city of Houston needed assistance with floods in 2017, the Cherokee Nation Marshals were there. When the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s home in North Carolina was threatened with high water last year, officers from Cherokee Nation crossed the country to help.
It is a full-fledged, certified law enforcement agency with jurisdiction throughout the Cherokee Nation. The department recently saw a much-deserved budget increase from the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. The $255,000 influx will be used to increase salaries for about half the deputy marshals, which will bring the officers up to or above the Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement standard pay scale. It is the least we can do for the Marshal Service, which has a long and colorful history.
The Cherokee Nation has long taken responsibility for keeping our citizens and their property safe, establishing law enforcement “regulating companies” as early as 1797 to deal with livestock theft and other crimes. Soon the tribe established law enforcement units to regulate against disorder. In 1844, the Cherokee National Council formally authorized the formation of the Lighthorsemen and charged them with bringing in fugitives for justice.
Obstructive federal policy toward sovereign tribal nations caused the law enforcement in the Cherokee Nation to be suspended for many decades after Oklahoma statehood. Tribal law enforcement here was restored by Legislative Act in 1991 after the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals case decided Ross v Neff, which held that the state of Oklahoma did not have criminal jurisdiction over Indian Country within the Cherokee Nation. Our Cherokee Nation Marshal Service quickly formed and resumed police work throughout our Cherokee communities, resolving the jurisdictional issue by forming partnerships with area agencies.
Today, we have cross-deputization agreements with 54 municipal, county, state and federal police agencies, and maintain a staff of more than 30 men and women who, together, cover about 9,000 square miles. Agency collaborations ensure better and faster coverage across such a vast territory. Their assistance helps many smaller communities stretch their law enforcement dollars and manpower.
The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service is an invaluable asset to our citizens and communities. When you see these officers serving in your community, please offer them a warm “Wado” for their service.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.